Brad Laurie Interviews Artur Sychov about the Blockchain-Based Social VR Platform Somnium Space

Australian YouTuber Brad Laurie (a.k.a BlockchainBrad) has just published another in-depth interview with Somnium Space CEO and virtual world entrepreneur Artur Sychov, who has decided to embrace blockchain technology for his social VR platform. Brad’s YouTube channel focuses on various blockchain projects, and the 80-minute conversation is obviously mostly about blockchain, but it’s still quite understandable by crypto newbies like me!

The interview is quite wide-ranging, and Brad asks Artur about comparisons between Somnium Space and Second Life (still the most popular and economically successful virtual world) and Decentraland (another blockchain-based virtual world which is still in closed beta). Artur says that Linden Lab’s founding CEO, Philip Rosedale, has helped advise him on Somnium Space.

Also, unlike Decentraland, Somnium Space will be the second VR-capable blockchain-based virtual world to launch (after Cryptovoxels). Decentraland does not support virtual reality, and is unlikely to do so anytime in the near future. And the graphics in Somnium Space will definitely be a step up from the voxel-based graphics of Cryptovoxels! I am quite looking forward to seeing what Somnium Space 2.0 looks like when it launches in October or November of this year.

Brad asks Artur about Somnium Space’s “Live Forever” feature, of which I have been skeptical in the past on this blog. Artur explains that Somnium Space will offer to record everything you do and say in VR on your parcel of virtual land, and then apply AI to it. Artur says that if you die, you can then have this second version of you that your children and grandchildren can visit. He states that AI is progressing so quickly that within 10 to 15 years, it will be difficult to determine what is really you and what is AI. Upon questioning from Brad, he admits that nobody else has tried to do this before. (And I am still skeptical that this will work. The amount of data storage to save everything your avatar says and does over days, weeks, months and years will be quite substantial, and will likely become overwhelming to work with.)

Somnium Space is holding an Initial Land Offering (ILO) starting October 6th and running until October 13th, where 4,500 parcels of virtual land will be auctioned off in partnership with OpenSea. (Bidders will have to have a Ethereum cryptocurrency wallet like MetaMask.)

In every other social VR platform and virtual world to date, you are not allowed to transfer your avatar and purchases to other people as part of the platform’s terms of service (although Second Life does allow you to leave your avatar and its inventory to another person via your will). Artur talks about how the use of blockchain in Somnium Space will allow users who are banned from Somnium Space to resell everything they own to other people who can use it, at whatever prices the market will bear. This is quite a novel idea for a virtual world!

Brad also asks about the cryptocurrency to be used in Somnium Space, and Artur replies that they are working on finalizing the details on it. He states that they will comply with any current and future governmental rules and regulations on cryptocurrencies, trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Artur says that Somnium Space currently has a dozen software developers at work on the platform, with extensive in-house expertise on virtual reality and blockchain. And Somnium Space will soon release a version of the client for Oculus Quest wireless VR headset users.

You can follow Somnium Space on DiscordTwitterTelegram or Instagram. Artur Sychov also hosts an Open Mic event every Saturday at 22:00 CEST (Central European Standard Time) in the Somnium Space amphitheater, for users to learn more about latest development news and to have their questions answered by the CEO himself.

Somnium Space is available via Steam and downloadable from their website (the client software is free).

Sam Tucker Takes On Somnium Space

Sam Tucker is a comedian who makes YouTube videos about technology. His YouTube channel, called SAMTIME, has nearly 200,000 subscribers.

Today, Sam released his latest video, a rather funny look at the social VR platform Somnium Space, titled Virtual Real Estate! The Only House Millennials Can Afford!:

Even if you know nothing about Somnium Space, I still recommend you watch this video. Sam actually does a pretty good job of describing Somnium Space’s features, while gently poking fun at things such as that “Live Forever” feature which (let’s face it) is such an easy target to make fun of.

And I cackled with laughter at the wickedly clever insertion of an infamous clip from the Bitconnect blockchain-based Ponzi scheme promotional video, when Sam talks about “the security of blockchain” near the beginning of this video! Sam certainly knows his references, and that tiny little detail is something only a crypto geek would catch, and I loved it! So shady, Sam!

“BITCONNEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECT!!!!”

And if you are not familiar with the Bitconnect meme, here it is in all its glory:

Somnium Space may have been a sponsor of this video, but I’m not entirely sure that the company really knew what they were getting into with Sam Tucker! Still, it’s a very funny, well-done video, and any promotion is good promotion, right?

Editorial: How Much Freedom Does Blockchain Really Convey? Artur Sychov Talks About Somnium Space 2.0

The VR news website VR Focus did a good profile on Somnium Space co-founder and CEO Artur Sychov at the recent Gamescom 2019 conference in Cologne, Germany, where he talked about the upcoming Somnium Space 2.0 update and shared a few shots of what it looks like:

As I have mentioned before, Somnium Space is planning to integrate blockchain as part of their social platform, stating on their website:

In the VR Focus video, Artur describes what he sees as some of the benefits of blockchain:

As I said, there are two ways you can do it: either we have a centralized approach like any other game in the world including Second Life, which has 500 million dollars revenue per year, or we do it decentralized. And centralized means, as a company, we hold all the information about all your items, all your belongings, on our servers. The only problem is, for the player… if there is anything happening, so you work hard for years and you earn some items and money inside the game and you own avatars and everything, but once you get banned for any reason… your items are gone. You are not in control of your belongings. On the other hand, a decentralized economy, a blockchain economy, allows you to own those items on the token and we as the company have no way how to influence that. For example, you own an avatar, it’s on a blockchain token, you can go and sell it on the open market and if we decide to ban you… you can still go and sell your avatar on the free market, and we have no influence over that, so we cannot stop you to do so and that’s the power of the blockchain. We have decoupled the economy from Somnium as an operating company, and we give this power back to the users.

Now, this all sounds wonderful, but I do wonder if Somnium Space is going to run into some serious technical issues when they try to implement this truly decentralized plan. Decentraland is an example of a blockchain-based virtual world that promised a decentralized implementation, a promise on which it has not yet delivered. Saying that you own something like virtual land on the blockchain is one thing, but if the servers providing access to your land are centralized (as Decentraland’s servers are right now), that proof of ownership is meaningless if they decide to shut the service down at some point in the future. And the same thing applies to Somnium Space.

But that’s not the only concern I have. In this video, Artur says that blockchain could be used as a way to evade a ban from the company, citing the example that a blockchain-based avatar could still be sold on the free market, outside the control of Somnium Space.

Let’s examine this idea more carefully. Since this was filmed during a conference in Germany, let’s say you create an avatar that breaks Germany’s strict laws banning denial of the Holocaust. (For example, an avatar holding a large picket sign claiming that the genocide of 6 million European Jews, as well as millions of others, including gypsies and homosexuals, never actually happened.)

First, are you claiming that avatar representation on your platform will be completely decentralized, that is, distributed over multiple servers worldwide over which the company has zero control? The technical implementation issues would be enormous, I would think. I can’t think of a single social VR platform or virtual world that has been able to do this (and if I am wrong, somebody please correct me).

And second, what happens if the German government knocks on Somnium Space’s door and insists that the Holocaust-denying avatar be completely banned from Somnium Space accessed from German computers, in accordance with their law? Facebook is just one example of a company that has fallen afoul of German Holocaust denial laws.

Or let’s look at this with a different example. What if your avatar were a sexually explicit one, being used for child pornography purposes? I think you will agree with me that any social VR platform which gives such complete, unfettered freedom to avatar creators is going to run into many serious legal problems from a variety of jurisdictions around the world.

All being on the blockchain means is that you can prove you own something. Period. It doesn’t confer the freedom to do whatever you want, possibly running afoul of corporate policy and global laws. And I would be cautious of any company that makes these kinds of promises, especially in these wearying days of relentless blockchain hyperbole. There’s lots of breezy talk in the cryptocurrency and blockchain community about concepts such as “decentralization” and “ownership” and “freedom”, without a lot of serious thinking about the consequences if such a vision were to be fully implemented. We need to have those discussions, too.

I look forward to exploring Somnium Space 2.0 when it comes out. The early teaser shots look wonderful, and I think that moving to full-body avatars is a great idea. There’s lots of good ideas in Somnium Space, but I am a little concerned (and a little skeptical) about some of the blockchain-related promises being made in this video. Sorry, Artur! Please don’t take this personally. You know I will point out potentially problematic issues on this blog when I run across them, and Somnium Space is not the only blockchain-based virtual world I have criticized. You will remember that I also gave you a hard time with that whole “eternal life” promise you made last year. You just need to reign back on the promises a bit, until the technology catches up 😉

So, what do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below or, as always, you are welcome to join the freewheeling conversations and debates about social VR and virtual worlds taking place on the RyanSchultz.com Discord server, the first cross-worlds discussion forum!


Thanks to Artur Sychov for the heads up on the video!

UPDATED! Adventures in VR: Oculus Home, Somnium Space, Sinespace

This morning I decided to spend a little time in my Oculus Rift visiting three social VR platforms that I have not spent a lot of time in recently: Oculus Home, Somnium Space, and Sinespace.

Oculus Home

I was genuinely curious about Oculus Home after David Hall posted his video to YouTube, so I made sure to spend some time exploring it and learning about its new features. Basically, you can design your own home (even import your own content now), create multiple homes, and visit other people’s homes. You can set any of your homes to private, friends only, or public.

The software is still a little bit buggy. Multiple times I tried to favourite other people’s homes which I liked and wanted to be able revisit later, but it would not save my choices. Moving around is a bit cumbersome at first, but you can change the default teleport to walk and the default snap turning to smooth turning, so once I was able to fiddle with the settings a bit I felt a little more comfortable. I also encountered a few sticking points in the tutorials, which also could use a bit of tweaking.

Another problem is finding places to explore. There is a Recommended list of homes under Places in the pop-up menu, but it’s rather short (perhaps not many people have set their homes to public yet). Oculus Home is not really set up yet to allow you to easily browse other people’s experiences as you already can in Sansar with the Sansar Atlas, which is sortable in various ways (most popular, recently created, etc.).

And, in what I call “the VRChat/Rec Room problem”, there appear to be a lot of children and immature adults on the platform. Yes, there is asshattery, tomfoolery, and trolling already! It’s hardly surprising, really. After all, anyone who owns an Oculus Rift VR headset has access to Oculus Home.

However, I cannot deny that the experiences I visited were beautifully rendered, especially at the highest graphics settings in the options. I am eager to see where Facebook/Oculus takes this.

Somnium Space

I always have the same problem whenecer I try to start Somnium Space: I can’t remember the automatically-generated password! So I had to go through the whole rigamarole of resetting my password. This time I made sure to check the “remember password” option!

Unlike most other social VR platforms, Somnium Space appears to be one large landmass (mostly empty at this point). There’s a few places to explore, like a seaside town, a working bowling alley, and a shopping mall, but not a lot else yet.

There’s a very handy snapshot feature in Somnium Space which I used to take some in-world photos, but unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you what directory it is saving them to on your hard drive! After hunting around fruitlessly for fifteen minutes, I simply gave up.

There are also teleporters which tell you that can actually use them to teleport from Somnium Space to High Fidelity, JanusVR, and AltspaceVR, but they don’t work. Or at least, I couldn’t figure out how to work them. I gave up on that too.

Somnium Space really could use someone to provide better user documentation of features like the camera and the teleporters. Other than that, they’re off to a promising start, having raised over US$60,000 in their recent IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign.

Also, I decided today to set up a new category on my blog just for Somnium Space.

Sinespace

When I first tried Sinespace in VR last May, it was seriously buggy. I am sorry to report that the situation has not improved any. To enable VR mode in Sinespace, you have to download a special beta OpenVR client, install it, open it, make sure you enable OpenVR in the user settings and then restart the client software. (A bit fussy, in my opinion, compared to the seamless switching between desktop mode and VR mode in competing platforms like Sansar and High Fidelity.)

I found the level of jitteriness to be so severe that I had to take off my VR headset after only a couple of minutes before I got sick. In addition to that, whenever I teleported anywhere, I landed up facing the opposite direction from where I started. The user interface menus are positioned too close to your eyes. At one point, I was looking at the backside of the Explore menu! I could go on, but you get the idea: this is simply not ready for prime time yet. I was actually very disappointed.

UPDATE 9:03 p.m.: Well, I asked on the official Somnium Space Discord server, and someone told me where to find the snaphots I had taken (they were saved to the C:/Users/[username]/Documents/Somnium Space/Tablet Camera folder):

My avatar in Somnium Space
The teleporter I couldn’t get to work 🙁